The back of the tuk-tuk is like a portal to exotic locations. I’m about a block away from the office, but cruising through Sandton with the wind in my hair transports me to the fragrant streets of India. My driver, Blessing, is a Nigerian. We’re driving around the block at an average speed of 25km/h, which gives me an opportunity to get to know him.
“Before this, I had nothing,” he shouts over the noise of the motor. To become a tuk-tuk driver, he had to get a motorcycle licence and undergo training, but he seems pleased. “After 24 months, the tuk-tuks are going to belong to the drivers,” he says enthusiastically.
Neil McWilliams, one of the founding members of Shesha Tuks, tells an assortment of journalists, bloggers and Old Mutual staff members that it took the company two and a half years to get a taxi permit in Sandton. Shesha Tuks is a private venture, funded by three shareholders. Old Mutual is using the 25 tuk-tuks to promote the good work it has been doing through its corporate social investment initiatives by branding each tuk-tuk.
“The Old Mutual branding will assist us with payment for the drivers,” McWilliams explains in an interview. For him, driver empowerment is top priority for the company.
For the first three months after the launch of Shesha Tuks in Sandton, each driver is guaranteed a salary of R3 500 in addition to fares and tips. After three months, the drivers have to pay the company a management fee of R125 a day, which gets them the tuk-tuk, public liability insurance, their uniform, training, access to the call centre and marketing. After the initial daily fee of R125 a day, the drivers keep everything they make.
“The only model that is sustainable, is the one where the drivers pay us a management fee,” says McWilliams. “With an average price of R30 per drip, they need to make four trips per day to break even. We’ve calculated that they can earn roughly R13 500 per month.”
“My biggest challenge was finding the appropriate drivers. We used Skully’s Scooters to help us recruit drivers who already had a motorcycle license, which means that a lot of the applicants were delivery guys. If you knew what these guys were earning, it would make you sick,” he says.
“I did over 80 interviews and it was very difficult to explain our business model to these guys. They are the heart and soul of the business, so we had to give them a lot of training – from financial training to life skills. None of them knew the extent of the project, until they attended the Old Mutual launch. One guy came up to me and said it was the happiest day of his life.”
Shesha Tuks has a 24-month contract with local branding and advertising bigshots Primedia, which helped it to secure a one year contract with Old Mutual. Old Mutual will have the first option of renewal and also receive the first offer on new vehicles.
Until the end of November, tuk-tuk rides are free as part of the launch promotion. If you bump into Blessing on your first joyride, don’t forget to tip!